The Role of Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care

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By Jake Lewitz

Today, there is a vast division between the demand of primary care and the ability to supply such care. With the Affordable Care Act’s promise to provide health insurance for over 30 million Americans in the near future, experts predict an increase demand for primary care. However, the American Medical Association estimates that there is a shortage of 91,000 primary care physicians in the United States.[1] Nurse practitioners (NP), which are nurses with graduate degrees and advanced skills, provide a solution to this problem. With lower training costs and nearly all the same abilities of general practitioners (GP) for routine primary care, NPs provide a solution to the void in primary care.[2]

State policymakers are the most capable individuals for addressing this issue because they control nurse practitioners’ scope of practice. Today, 14 states and the District of Columbia allow nurse practitioners to practice at their full capacity. [3] In these areas, NPs can prescribe medication without the oversight of a physician. This alleviates the strain on GPs to address the rise in demand for primary care alone.

The 14 states, and the District of Columbia, that have allowed NPs to prescribe medication have demonstrated that expanding the scope of practice of nurse practitioners does not compromise quality.[4] Rather, there is compelling research that suggests nurse practitioners deliver better quality care because they are able to allot more time to each patient.[5] Improved communication and the ability to relay health information with common terminology also contribute to the success of nurse practitioners.[6]

NPs cost less because they cost less to train. Instead of costly medical school, NPs receive a degree through a one to two year graduate program. At this rate, it is possible to educate three to twelve NPs at the price of one GP.[7] As a result, hospitals and clinics can see more patients at a fraction of the cost and expect higher revenue. Continuing to expand the scope of practice for NPs in other states will ensure patients have greater access to care at a lower cost without sacrificing quality.